Interactive notebooks (or INBs) are a fun, creative, and productive way for students to take ownership of their learning and truly interact with the lessons at hand.

See what some terrific TpT Teacher-Authors have to say about this versatile learning tool, including the types of assignments that call for interactive notebooks as well as the unique ways in which differentiation can be incorporated into the use of INBs.

You’ll also find tips for overcoming INB-related obstacles that may pop up for you or your students. It’s a multi-dimensional look at interactive notebooks!

INB Insight from TpT Teacher-Authors

1. See a sampling of a-ha moments, thanks to interactive notebooks.

Characteristics of Fiction & Point of View Interactive Notebook SampleAmy Menzi says, “After my 7th grader came home with no notes, no study guide, and no prep for her end-of-course exam in civics, I quickly made a civics interactive notebook for her (and the many friends that wanted a copy)! I could see how much it helped them learn the material in such a short time, so I decided to modify some of the activities for my 5th graders. Much to my surprise, the same kids that complained about taking ‘notes’ were more than willing to write just as much if they could cut out a shape first! Here’s one of my interactive notebook resources (it’s a freebie!): Characteristics of Fiction & Point of View Interactive Notebook Sample (grades 3-6).”

From Rainbow City Learning: “I’ve been using interactive notebooks for the past 10 years and realized over time that the most meaningful way to create the notebooks is according to the particular needs of my students. Each page should be the next thing your students need to add to their learning toolkit, not necessarily the next page in a notebook that scrolls through each standard. I think it should be more organic. I’ve tailored my notebooks for each subject as we go, and they’re different each year because my students are different each year. As a TpT Teacher-Author, I like to create resources that will fit perfectly inside any other interactive resource the teacher might be using. For example, a novel unit or a life skills unit can fit neatly inside any language arts interactive notebook and enrich the learning. Novel Unit for Interactive Notebooks: A Crooked Kind of Perfect (grades 4-6) is one of my favorites.”

Kindergarten Interactive Math Notebook: Includes all Common Core Math Standards“We’ve only started using interactive notebooks a month ago and have had so many a-ha moments,” says Megan Shea. “My students are quiet and focused the whole time! They’re so excited when we do the notebooks, and I feel like they really understand what they’re doing rather than just filling in answers. The biggest a-ha moment so far has been every single kindergartener in the class ‘getting it’ and doing it correctly. It’s rare for all of the kids to understand something this early in the year.” Here’s Megan’s math notebook that she’s using with her students: Kindergarten Interactive Math Notebook: Includes all Common Core Math Standards (grades PreK-1).

2. Find solutions for issues with time management, students who forget their notebook, or students who join class later in the year.

"Less Mess" Fiction Interactive Notebook Activities (for Reading/Literature)The Peanut Gallery explains, “My biggest challenge in first implementing interactive notebooks was the time element. I have each class for just one short period, and we were spending a lot of time cutting, pasting, and organizing. And then I discovered the solution: Simplify! I created a line of interactive notebooks aptly named ‘Less Mess’ Interactive Notebook Activities, which allow me to use the concept and make it work no matter how much time I have! For example, here’s “Less Mess” Fiction Interactive Notebook Activities (for Reading/Literature) (grades 3-7).”

“I think one of the challenges we face in 1st grade is the overall organization and time management aspect of interactive notebooks,” says Erin Waters. “In my interactive poetry notebooks, I’ve included storage tools and organization/management tools such as envelopes built into the notebooks to store materials that students might not have time to cut out or glue during a given time. I believe it’s so important to introduce notebooks as an ongoing tool that students can refer back to throughout the year — not just isolated lessons, but a cohesive set of skills that we’re building all year long! My Interactive Poetry Notebook Bundle {48 Weeks of K-2 Poems & Activities} (grades K-2) offers students a variety of activities so that students of all abilities and learning styles can benefit from the beauty that is poetry!”

Interactive Notebook Planning Sheets {FREEBIE}From 4mulaFun: “The biggest obstacle that I faced with students in middle school was those who would forget to bring their notebook to class. To solve this, I started having my students grab two sheets of notebook paper when they came into class if they happened to have come without their notebook. They’d then open these sheets of notebook paper to where the holes came together in the center just like an open notebook. This allowed them to continue on with the lesson with the rest of the class. At the end of the class period, they’d turn in those sheets to me for safe-keep for when they returned with their notebook the next day in class. I would give them those sheets to then adhere to their notebook appropriately.

As a teacher I feel that the most important role I play in interactive notebooks is planning ahead. I created a set of Planning Sheets that teachers can grab for free in my TpT store to help them plan ahead as they’re working. Here it is: Interactive Notebook Planning Sheets {FREEBIE} (grades 3-12).”

The Ultimate Interactive Notebook Template Collection (Blank Editable Templates)From Lovin Lit: “‘What do you do with students who enter in the middle of the year?’ is one of the most common questions I get. The answer is to keep it simple:

1. Hand students a new notebook along with your teacher-modeling notebook.
2. Have them number the pages the same and fill out the table of contents completely.
3. Now, begin where you are. There will be several blank pages in the front, and that’s OK.
4. When you discover a deficiency or something that student doesn’t know, only then should you take the time to go back and have him or her complete that specific page.

This way, their interactive notebook is still a record of what they’ve learned in your class, and they still benefit from the doing of the activity that is at the heart of the interactive notebook concept.

If you’re notebooking this year, a large pack of blank templates can be your best friend. Take a look at The Ultimate Interactive Notebook Template Collection (Blank Editable Templates).

3. Get tips on surmounting the challenges students may face when using interactive notebooks.

Common Core Algebra 1 Interactive Notebook Complete Resource {Unit 1}“I teach middle school, and the biggest obstacle for students is learning to use interactive notebooks for the first time,” says Lindsay Perro. “They’re so used to traditional binders and notes that get clipped in, that at first, they might feel like the interactive notebook is just for fun. Once they really need to use their interactive notebook for the first time to study for an exam, they have the opportunity to understand how the information flows together — with notes being by examples and everything being in one place. And all in order, too! I’m working on a complete Algebra CCSS curriculum; the interactive notebook packet for unit 1 can be found here: Common Core Algebra 1 Interactive Notebook Complete Resource {Unit 1} (grades 7-9).”

From Yvonne Crawford: “One of the challenges I faced when introducing students to interactive math notebooks was the students’ belief that math should be approached in a rigid manner. Many students (particularly upper elementary and middle school students) had to be shown that it’s accepted — and in fact, encouraged — to approach mathematics in a fun and creative way. This challenge can be overcome by giving students free reign to have fun with their math notebooks however they choose. When cutting, pasting, and coloring math activities, students should be encouraged to express their inner creative selves. If drawing pictures, scribbling notes, or highlighting particular activities helps students learn, they should feel encouraged to do these things. By engaging both the left and right sides of the brain, students will start to associate mathematics with fun and creativity.” Here’s Yvonne’s Interactive Math Notebook Hands-On Sixth Grade Common Core resource (grades 5-7).

Weekly Interactive Vocabulary Notebook Unit for Scaredy SquirrelSecond Story Window explains, “The biggest obstacle my students (and I!) faced was simply having a workable system of management for our notebooks. Without some support structure, it quickly turned into a cloud of paper scraps, lost and damaged notebook components, dried gluesticks, and wasted time. Through trial and error, I’ve picked up a few tricks for effectively managing interactive notebooks. The first big help is that we do all the cutting at once. On Friday afternoons, we cut out all the pieces we’ll need for the following week. We store the pieces in an envelope taped to the front of their interactive notebook.

A lot of interactive notebook components are meant to be folded. This often means that kids are supposed to snip the lines partway, but leave part attached. No matter how many times I modeled how to do this correctly, there were always two or three who would cut the lines completely. To solve this, I started marking the stopping point with a symbol: a little octagon. After this, I rarely had kids needing a second paper. We love to use interactive notebooks for vocabulary (we call them Jargon Journals). Here’s our free Weekly Interactive Vocabulary Notebook Unit for Scaredy Squirrel (grades 1-4).”

“We use our math notebooks as a source of information throughout the year, but it can be hard for my students to rummage through each page,” explains Evil Math Wizard. “Now we alphabetize the information in our interactive dictionaries. My students can access the information a lot quicker now. Here’s my free Blank Dictionary for any subject (grades K-6), which is easy to bind, too!”

Interactive Notebook Story Telling Shapes for AutismFrom Autism Educators: “Since many of my students with autism need cutting and fine motor skills practice, I knew I’d have to create a simpler version with bold cutting lines, larger graphics to color, and visual prompts to help them generate thoughts for writing. Now, my class can participate and work on interactive notebooks, whether it’s in my class or as they transition out to Gen. Ed. They’re becoming confident writers with my Interactive Notebook Story Telling Shapes for Autism (grades K-5) activity. We’re all thrilled!”

4. Take inspiration on the types of assignments students can do with their notebooks.

1st Grade Social Studies Journal {25 Topics for the Entire Year}From First Grade Shashay: “As a 1st grade teacher, I love implementing interactive notebooks into my daily instruction! The assignments include identifying, describing, illustrating, reading prompts with comprehension questions, writing with graphic organizers, and much more. The entries are perfect for elaboration or review at the end of the week, and they fit perfectly inside students’ composition notebooks.” Take a look at her 1st Grade Social Studies Journal {25 Topics for the Entire Year}.

“My students do several types of assignments in their notebooks,” explains Brittany Washburn. “Cut and paste, writing (persuasive, informative, etc.), note-taking, data collection, and of course, diagramming. I really like having so many different types of notebook pages because this means we can have all of our science information in one place. Even my digital task cards have essential questions that students answer in their notebooks! When it comes time to study for a test, everything we’ve completed is right in the notebooks.”

Spanish Subject Pronouns and Ser Interactive Notebook ActivitiesIsland Teacher notes, “We just started using interactive notebooks this school year (in some of my Spanish classes) after I was inspired by TpT. I decided that I wanted the notebooks to be used mainly as interactive study tools. We’re essentially creating a textbook with our notebooks. When we begin a new topic, the students take notes in their notebooks. After that, they add some sort of foldable or flippable template that further reinforces the concept and serves the purpose of allowing them to use these templates as a study resource. We may complete worksheets or other activities related to the concept, but these don’t go into the notebooks. I’m pleased to say that we’re going on week eight and we have yet to crack open a textbook. The students are loving their notebooks and I am, too! Here’s a blog post showing some notes and templates in action, and here are my Spanish Subject Pronouns and Ser Interactive Notebook Activities (grades 4-11).”

5. Incorporate differentiation into the use of interactive notebooks.

Madame H says, “There are so many ways one can differentiate with interactive notebooks. One easy way is to use different colors for different concepts.  For example, I printed all the papers for our present tense verb interactive notebook activities in green and all the past tense activities in red. This definitely helped my students to better organize the steps in their minds.” Here’s Madame H’s bundle of interactive notebook activities for French language learners: Les Verbes Cahier Interactif Bundle (grades 8-11).

A HUMAN LIFE CYCLE Cut and Paste Activity: Mitosis, Meiosis, Fertilization“I’ve been working in a collaborative science classroom with a Special Ed teacher for the past several years, and we use interactive notebooks more and more frequently,” explains Strawberry Shake. “I like to have students take the pieces of a diagram and put them together correctly. It’s easy to differentiate this type of activity by having some students use pre-labeled parts and letting other students label the parts as they go. Visual learners get a chance to shine. The students work hard to get the parts of a diagram to go together into a cohesive picture, and they love the challenge of solving the puzzle.Here’s one of my favorite exercises: A HUMAN LIFE CYCLE Cut and Paste Activity: Mitosis, Meiosis, Fertilization (grades 6-11), and here’s a blog post where it’s featured.

Speech Therapy Games has this to say: “As Speech Language Pathologists, one of our biggest challenges is mixed groups. For example, instead of teaching the same sound, topic, or concept to the whole class, we often have five students all working on different goals at once. I created my Articulation Notebooks to address the difficulty of mixed groups. Each student works on the same themed page but there’s a separate page of target pictures depending on the student’s goal. It means that the students can work on their notebooks together but the SLP can work individually with students to meet their needs. So far, they’re working really well, and I’m excited about the possibilities!” Take a look at Articulation Notebooks Value Bundle (grades K-6).

{FREE SAMPLE!} Interactive Notebooks for 1st-5th Grade Math“Interactive notebooks are the perfect tool for differentiation,” says Blair Turner. “In my own classroom, I worked on interactive notebooks during center time. I didn’t use each and every activity with each and every student. Rather, I used different activities to target different areas of need for each of my small groups. Some students needed lots of repeated practice with one standard, while others were ready to move on or dig deeper into another. The wonderful thing about interactive notebooking is that no two notebooks will be alike — just like no two students are alike. Each student is able to create their own living, breathing creations that highlight their own strengths and develop their weaknesses. My {FREE SAMPLE!} Interactive Notebooks for 1st-5th Grade Math (grades 1-5) is a great way for teachers in grades 1-5 to get their feet wet with interactive notebooks.”

From Fern Smith’s Classroom Ideas: “My FREE Veterans Day Addition & Subtraction Interactive Notebook Activities allow teachers to differentiate addition and subtraction lessons and review while incorporating a little bit of history and Social Studies, too. Depending on the level of the student, he or she can write a word problem, solve the equation, or draw a picture underneath the flap related to Veterans Day.”

Interactive Notebook: Writing Introductions for Argumentative EssaysJulie Faulkner says, “Having been the Regular Ed teacher in a junior English inclusion class for several years, I’ve found that interactive notebooks in and of themselves are an excellent tool for differentiation. One challenge that students with special needs face, especially in literacy, is difficulty in writing notes. It’s a painstaking process for them — often having to copy letter by letter, word for word from a slideshow. Additionally, handwriting and keeping up with notes also tends to be an issue. The interactive notebooks alleviate those frustrations. With interactive notebooks, students get the notes they need, but they don’t face the boundaries of traditional note-taking. Once the interactive notebooks are assembled, the students are still accountable for the information, and they can apply it. On top of that, they can be proud of what they’ve made! One interactive notebook insert that I use for teaching writing is Interactive Notebook: Writing Introductions for Argumentative Essays (grades 6-12).”

Life Science Interactive Notebook - The COMPLETE Bundle for an ENTIRE YEAR!Nitty Gritty Science says, “A key principle that forms the foundation of differentiating instruction is a teacher recognizing his or her classroom of diverse learners and using this information to plan instruction. A science interactive notebook, I feel, is THE one tool that teachers should have in their wheelhouse to respond to each student’s needs and help maximize their learning. When I create products, I try to offer a variety of engaging activities; I have activities in there for my linguistic learners, logical learners, naturalistic learners, kinesthetic learners, etc. Interactive notebook activities can be anything you want: Puzzles, song-writing, artistry, study tools, paper crafts, cycle dials. The list goes on and on.

Interactive notebooks are very personal to a student if completed properly because they’re a student-created learning resource in which students apply the new information in a way that they’re able to comprehend in their own learning style. Many times, these differentiated activities can be performed individually or in groups where students just thrive, collaborating on ideas for their pages and having meaningful conversations about science! We just happen to give them the notes on the ‘teacher input’ side to get started.” Here’s Life Science Interactive Notebook – The COMPLETE Bundle for an ENTIRE YEAR! (grades 5-12).

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Truly terrific insight and tips! Interactive notebooks are special tools (made even more special when Teacher-Authors join together to share their experiences and best recommendations). Let’s hear it for teacher collaboration, and let’s hear it for INBs!

(Feature image: Thanks to Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs for the “notebook paper” art and Kidsrcute for the font.)

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